Business Relationship Management - what's it all about?

Apr 19, 2021

Both the 2Saints partners have hands on experience at senior levels in the world of IT Business Relationship Management. What was once a dark art is now mainstream and key to the successful technological transformation of business ....

This is an overview of IT Business Relationship Management and the role of a Business Relationship Manager - from a 2Saints perspective. What does that mean? Well it's a perspective from experience over many roles over the years - what has worked (not going to focus on what has not).
Business Relationship Management or BRM has been around since the late 1990’s, early 2000’s. It can be called many things but in essence it is a position(s) which facilitates the relationship between the business units of an organisation and their IT department.
The role of BRM
The word ‘relationship’ can be seen as a positive connotation. In an ideal state, all things should be positive and happy and everybody gets along. In reality however, this can be far from the truth. In the world of BRM it is all about maintaining relationships which ensures a win/win scenario, what is best for the organisation, not for the individual. This means a BRM may have to have uncomfortable / tricky conversations, set expectations (which people may not like) and overall a BRM has to hold their nerve. People can get frustrated and tempers can flare, which means at times it will be seen as the ‘relationship’ between a BRM and business is poor, so do not think this role is easy.
The role of a BRM is wide - jack of many trades. He or she literally can be involved with anything IT related when the business needs to be considered or involved.
The BRM role allows many things, which a few are;
1) It allows the business to communicate their business needs / strategy to the IT department, which in turn, should (big word this - should) allow the IT department to provide technology services which directly enables the business and empower/delivery their business needs / strategy

2) It allows the IT department to communicate their needs and strategy

3) The BRM role can be a strong escalation point for key business issues which IT need to support
4) Successful BRM can be the enabler to have IT seen as business value, rather than an overhead.
Below is a simple representation of BRM. Each brick represents a department. Each department is only interested in their own brick (world). The BRM is interested in the whole wall. They are the glue between the bricks, and they know how everything is pieced together. A good BRM will know the overall strength of each department, their importance to the company and where the challenges lie. They know who the key contacts are. In many cases BRM have cross functional knowledge better than their business colleagues.

To put BRM into showbiz terms, the role is a bit like Tom Hagan in the Godfather. Tom was the consigliere to the boss! A consigliere can act as an advisor, mediator, represent people in meetings, help with negotiations and overall they hear and see everything. They are often one of the few people who can debate / disagree with the boss on certain decisions or plans, because of the nature of the job. This means the person cannot just be a yes man / woman!

Overall, a BRM needs to be someone that the business units and leaders have ultimate faith and trust in. A BRM works at all levels to get the job done.

The type of person for a BRM role
A BRM is a hybrid person who understands the business, whilst also understanding IT teams and technology. They can talk in layman's terms, but also technical when necessary. Not everyone can do this, therefore finding the right person can be hard - it would be naive to think that just anyone can do it.

A BRM’s knowledge of the business units and technology needs to be broad but not necessarily deep. Of course the deeper the better, but that can be very hard when a person has many areas of responsibility etc, therefore a good BRM will develop and nurture a network of subject matter experts (SME’s) that they can be their goto’s when necessarily - within the business and within IT.

Key traits of a good BRM are:
- Trustworthy
- Influencer
- Reflective
- Business and tech savvy
- Politically astute
- Cool headed
- Extroverted
- Thick skinned
- Ability to hold their nerve

A good BRM is seasoned in their role. They are primarily customer focused and many people who move into the BRM role tend to come from a Services or Business Project Management background. In the majority (but not always), someone who is or has been very technical in their role, is not a good fit for a BRM role.

When training is required, for example, when there is a team of BRM’s and you want to have consistency within that team, at a basic, the following should be trained -

- Presentation skills
- Mentoring to colleagues
- Business case writing
- Relationship science / management / building
- How to say no
- Conflict Management
- Influencing others
- Stakeholder management
- Personal selling skills
- Communication styles

To move into the psychology of how people are and how they operate, a great method is the use of Discovery Insights - this can allow the BRM to analyse people from afar to maximise the relationship(s).

Key tools of BRM
There are some key tools / methods that a BRM should use / engage with. They are:

Stakeholder Mapping
Who is important and who is not!
At a basic, use RACI - who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed

Business Unit Overview

Detail everything needed to know about the business unit, with explanation of how IT can help or is impacted. Provide a view of your thoughts on requirements, challenges, risks/concerns (SWOT analysis) - at bit like an IT Strategy document, but for a singular business unit

Project Prioritisation Tool
There are various models available in various PM tools. Decide on a method and use this to help prioritise the business needs. A prioritisation tools should only have 5 or 6 key questions

Benefits Dependency Network

When working out if something should be progressed or not

Maintaining the flow

Communication is key between all parties. The BRM is responsible for this. The BRM need to keep the various leaders informed of needs/requirements and issues. Drive / ensure they are being managed by the relevant teams.

As the BRM is an influencer / overseer, for example, a BRM is not responsible for issues but they need to ensure the right person (or team) take on the responsibility to resolve and communicate to the customer(s).
The BRM has to broker many relationships.
Top BRM tips